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Thursday, November 22, 2012
Five storylines: Ohio State-Michigan

By Austin Ward

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A look at the hot topics and pressing concerns as Ohio State gears up to close its season against rival Michigan at home on Saturday (TV: ABC, noon ET).

On the line: The division title is already locked up, but there is absolutely no shortage of things for Ohio State to play for. At the top of the list is bragging rights over the Wolverines, obviously, but the Buckeyes could potentially make a case for a split national championship if they finish off their perfect season. There's also the matter of building a little extra momentum heading into the offseason, both for workouts for the returning players and in terms of recruiting. And Braxton Miller also has one final shot at impressing Heisman Trophy voters. All those other motivators, though, pale in comparison to simply knocking off a hated rival.

Campaign stop: The rough personal outing for Miller last week at Wisconsin certainly put a damper on his chances of winning the most famous bronze statue in college football, but he's not totally out of the picture yet for a couple reasons. Another of the presumptive finalists struggled with Kansas State and Collin Klein getting throttled by Baylor, and Miller's team still won and remains unbeaten. Quarterbacks for teams without a loss typically fare pretty well in the Heisman race, and Miller has more than enough impressive numbers to garner votes. If he goes out with an impressive outing against Michigan in a high-profile game, he figures to be on his way to New York.

Getting defensive: The last few weeks have given the Buckeyes a surprising awards candidate on the other side of the ball as well. And though Ryan Shazier started gaining steam a bit too late to win national awards for linebackers or defensive players, he could wind up as a legitimate candidate for the top defensive honor in the conference with his stats-stuffing work and memorable, game-changing plays down the stretch. In addition to his piles of tackles so far this season, the sophomore has an interception return for a touchdown that swung the road win at Penn State and another entry on the highlight reel with his forced fumble at the goal line last week at Wisconsin, and he, too, could benefit from another big outing to close the season with all eyes on him Saturday.

So long, seniors: The goal of winning as many games as possible for the senior class has almost been maxed out by the Buckeyes, and obviously one more would give the class on the way out an unforgettable legacy. There has been plenty of adversity both individually and collectively for the group of veterans that elected to stay with the program even after NCAA sanctions handed down on Ohio State last year would have allowed them to leave. Leaders like John Simon and Zach Boren, for starters, will be setting an example by pouring out everything they have in the tank to go out on top -- particularly in the last battle they have with Michigan.

Ground and pound: The Wolverines ranks among the most effective defenses in the Big Ten in terms of limiting both yardage and points, but there is often some room to maneuver on the ground. After Miller struggled and looked indecisive at times last week against a stout Wisconsin rush defense, he'll surely have to be improved and show his trademark acceleration and juking ability more often. But the guy who might really need to step up most is running back Carlos Hyde, and it will be up to the offensive coaching staff to feed him the football more often than it did last week since Michigan doesn't figure to make it easy for the Buckeyes to throw it around much.